Meny Hoffman is joined by Innovare Group CEO Kim Bohr to discuss the importance of tight execution to complement well-made business strategies.
Ironing out business strategies will always be a vital part of the process, but do you ever get the sense that you’re getting stuck on the strategy level? “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” and this holds true in business as well. You can have the most solidly constructed business strategies in the world, but without the proper execution, those plans will soon go off the rails. Kim Bohr is a speaker, coveted executive advisor, and the CEO of the Innovare Group. Together, Kim and Meny discuss the importance of tight execution to complement well-made business strategies. It’s time to move out of the bubble and put what you know in practice!
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How to Align Your Team and Process With Kim Bohr
Our guest is Kim Bohr. She is an author, speaker, executive advisor and CEO of The Innovare Group. She is well-known for diagnosing and repairing organizational and leadership disconnect, working with both companies and leaders to help them assess, align and accelerate their strategic priorities that impact talent execution and business growth. In our interview, Kim and I discussed not only why it’s important to create a vision and a strategy for your business but a simple process, how to communicate that to your team. We also discuss why solid strategy won’t survive poor execution. Why do companies fail with execution and how to overcome that?
We went into detail in discussing if you are an employee within a company, how to create your growth plan so you know you’re growing and also more valuable for the company so you know how to focus on your next career change. We also focused on understanding why leaders need to be better at what they do and why shiny objects are not always the solution. There’s so much that we shared and I have to be honest with you that before going into this conversation, I didn’t know where this is going to lead us, but there’s so much great knowledge in this episode. Without further ado, here is my interview.
Kim, thank you so much for joining me on the show.
I’m so excited to be here. Thank you very much for having me.
The people reading our show on a regular basis know that we always say that we try to bring no-nonsense advice which is practical pointers for business owners, leaders within companies and even employees within companies are looking to grow their career and be better at what they do. I’m very excited to have you and dive into a couple of those conversations. You have a diverse experience in over twenty years of working with global companies, start-ups and family-owned businesses across industries. Bring us back a little bit at what we have seen throughout the years and what made you be in the business that you are in right now.
To start off, a lot of the reason I focused my career on business growth from the lens of a lot of people’s side and the process was because I saw so much of it breaking down. I didn’t have a lot of strong leaders early in my career and it became a mission for me to understand how does a business grow? Leadership impact that. Even as I was looking at helping other organizations grow from the many different positions I’ve held, I then wanted to take all those lessons learned and start to see how we could scale it across different organizations. That’s an opportunity where I thought I wanted to bring more of that leadership side together with this process side and focus on business growth and launched The Innovare Group with the intent of recognizing that solid strategy will not survive poor execution. At that core, that execution is the people and the process and getting that alignment is incredibly important for business growth.
I love that line that you used on the part of so many business owners are so focused on strategy, which is important. I always use the example that’s out there that if you don’t have a destination, every road will take you there and it’s very hard to have to make that decision of, where am I going? A strategy is very important, but people sometimes are so focused on strategy and not connecting the dots with execution. Let’s dive in deeper in discussing this from your experience of working with so many businesses. How do you see it? People that follow this show and follow me in particular, I’ve done a couple of LinkedIn Lives on this topic which is all about setting your goals and strategy. We speak very much about strategy in particular. There are so many people focusing on making sure that they have that strategy in place. What would you say how are people doing this wrong? We’ll dive in to discuss if people need to do it right in order to make sure that it doesn’t fail.
What I’m seeing a lot of is months of intense time put into strategy planning, looking at the direction of where organizations want to go and oftentimes coming out with big lofty goals. After so much work in bringing that strategy to life, I see breakdown in a couple of areas. It’s true, there might be too many strategic initiatives that come out and perhaps there are either some flaws there. What I also see is that oftentimes strategy is created inside a silo of sorts. It’s created with people who are perhaps at the top of the organization and not necessarily gathering the different perspectives and gathering the buy-in, that’s necessary when you start to include others outside of that senior-level management if you will.
What we find is when it’s time to roll out a strategy or a strategic initiative and everybody says, “This is what we’re doing. Go.” There are tremendous disconnects and that’s where we start to see execution failing and the disconnect in that people on the process side start to break down even further. When we think about it, we end up seeing that so much time has been spent on that first part. It’s a matter of rolling out and go and setting these expectations without the thoughtful nature needed to make that execution and strategy seamless.
In order to understand that, for our audience, what is that? Any business owner you would speak to would say, “We can have every person in the company be as part of the strategic meetings.”
When we talk about gathering those different perspectives, what we’re saying is, are there key individuals who will find that the world they represent becomes impacted? The head of your customer success team. They should be involved in aspects of it if the ultimate goal of what rolls out will impact the direct customer, for example. One of the pieces we find is that sometimes those voices aren’t represented. The disconnect to people who are closest to the frontline if you will, often become part of the breakdown. Those are also the people you need to execute. Part of what’s happening to this breakdown and why organizations are not spending as much time on execution is that they aren’t understanding all the different elements that are needed to execute seamlessly.
What we know for sure is that people want to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. Any execution on a strategic initiative should be viewed as more of a change management process or a change initiative and understanding that people aren’t necessarily always comfortable with change. Rolling something out is setting up a lot of disconnects between people wondering why are we doing this? How does my role fit into this? We were doing something else. It feels like a flavor of the month. Those are the types of things that can happen when the complete plan of why we’re doing this isn’t clearly articulated.
From a communications standpoint, what would be the most effective ways to communicate to your team why their work matters and how it fits within the big picture if let’s say, they didn’t participate in every strategy meeting going to the season, the quarter and the year?
There’s a three-step process I like to share with organizations that are applicable and straightforward. What I do is I say it’s tied into a communication plan. You start by being clear on where we’ve been. That might be from early on in the inception of the organization. It might be a bit of this storytelling about here are the different pivot points we’ve had and why, and why of each of those changes had taken place. It’s where we’ve been. The second piece I advise people on is to talk about where we are now. The where we are now then needs to talk about why we can’t stay here. That piece is critical because the why we can’t stay here might be tied to a fantastic opportunity that we have ahead of us that we want to capture market share on.
It could be that we’re seeing too many signs that what we’re doing isn’t the right thing for our customers and we need to reinvent ourselves. We need to change. The third step, and I think this is also equally important, is where we’re going and how your role fits. Much of execution breakdown is when people don’t feel that their work matters and they’re a cog in a wheel. That’s what we want to avoid. Helping to understand, people telling them that story and walking them through it then allows for them where we’re going to become more tailored into, and here’s what your role is and why you’re so important to us.
If you’re not seeing where we’re coming from, your team is not seeing what progress you have made until now. You’re speaking about where you are now and why we can stay here, which is automatically putting out their light bulb for them to understand why we’re not so comfortable staying where we are and ultimately where we’re going and how they could play a role. From a communication perspective, as far as what you have seen working. One of the things that I’ve heard from a lot of leaders that a lot of leaders are sitting in their bubble, which is their way of thinking, doing, and communicating. It means that sometimes you could hear a CEO coming on stage, speaking at the state of the company event and then people are saying, “I’m not even sure what he or she’s talking about.” That’s because the leaders have a certain vision that is, for lack of a better expression, not enough dumbed down for the average person doing their work in the company.A solid strategy will not survive poor execution. Click To Tweet
One of the other components is a reality that often when we’re talking about this, even in the idea of these three steps, as leaders, we’re inundated with the work we’re doing. We’re inundated with the strategy work, the months of planning all the meetings and we start to create immunity to what we’re doing, to the change that’s happening, to the impact we’re making. That becomes part of the mindset unconsciously that ends up when we roll it out, the idea we feel, perhaps a broken record and the key is we need to feel like a broken record in order to be keeping everybody up to speed with us. What you’ve said is absolutely true. It’s a matter of sometimes the vision is so high-level or it’s been shared so much in this bubble, it doesn’t translate. There becomes this disconnect. Those are easy fixes if we recognize that it’s happening. We can shift a communication strategy around that very easily.
For our audience, that’s something that they’ll find very valuable. If a leader needs to become better at it, what would be practical advice you’d give such a leader?
What I would say at any level is around curiosity. The more a leader could be curious whether we’re talking about the senior-level executive coming out on stage or a middle-level leader who’s receiving information and is feeling disconnected. The idea of being curious and asking questions is incredibly important. Even if that senior-level executive is rolling something out, a part of what they should be asking themselves is, “Have we brought everybody along in this journey? We have people that are joining the firm at various places. Some people may have been here for ten years or ten days.” Asking those questions and having the self-awareness to say, “Let’s not make any assumptions that people are going to figure it out.” From that mid-level leader standpoint, it is saying, “If I’m feeling disconnected, I need to ask questions, get curious and understand where the gaps are.” People tend to choose not to speak up in situations. We end up having these conversations with ourselves in our heads and making up stories that aren’t clear and accurate. They’re not necessarily ill-intended either, they could be filling us with misinformation. Curiosity is the key to that question.
I want to go back to what we discussed that the solid strategy won’t survive poor execution. I remember one of the podcasts guests, Marc Bodner, in season two. One of the things that he shared about his strategy and the way they work in his company is they would have strategic planning from the leadership team. As soon as they’re done, they would have an operational strategy which means having everybody in operation, people coming up with a strategy which is execution, how can we align ourselves with the strategic planning and making sure that we could execute. I found this fascinating because it’s almost like another step. As you mentioned, leadership will make a strategy and dump it on operations or people on the ground and there’s a disconnect.
I’m not even sure they could deliver it. I’m not sure if they have the capacity. I’m not even sure that this is the direction they’re going. We have the resources and almost like another step where they now have to think to make this happen, what do we need? They almost come up with their plan of action on a strategy document before it’s in the execution mode. I want to find out from you, obviously speaking on this topic of poor execution, what is the primary cause of that failed execution and what would be some practical advice on how to overcome it?
Much of that primary failure is due to that second step you spoke to. Having a clear communication plan is number one as we talked about. Having whoever is delivering that message and not just one person throughout that leadership team, that three-step process should be in play. Even if you’re trying to do something inside your team, it’s a solid process. The other component is what you were speaking to. If you’re thinking about from the operational planning perspective, what tends to happen is when we say go and we push out the plans to each functional area, there’s a strong tendency for those areas to go deep inside their functional area, go, execute and completely miss the cross-functional nature that should be happening, the cross-collaboration.
It’s incredibly important to think about when we go into the execution mode, what do we do from a partnership standpoint where we bring those different functions together and we figure out how do we leverage the resources, how do we have our communication plan cross-functionally? The idea from a silo perspective, it will kill any strategy as well. That’s an old concept that is going away as time goes on. Even unintentionally, we can end up siloing ourselves in ways that we didn’t mean too, but yet it has a detrimental effect on the side of our own business.
Let’s speak a little bit about both people on the execution side of the business, which is usually employees. You come into businesses and you work both sides which are the leadership team and making sure that they are up to par and their teams. There’s the execution team, which is the everyday employee within a company. First of all, when somebody as an employee wants to advance their career and they want to be able to grow within that company, understanding what other value they could bring to the company. What would be your piece of advice? How would you go about coaching such an employee within a company?
I am a tremendous proponent of having your accountability to your career advancement and understanding what does it mean to own your role and to advocate for yourself. We often rely too much on the expectation of the resources our companies provide us. Although there may be great learning libraries available and things like that, there’s often a tendency for people to still want to be told, what do I need to do to get to that place, to get to where you’re at or to get into that position? What I advise people on is that the paths that I took and opened doors for me are not supposed to be the same for you. We’re supposed to keep evolving as we are moving through our careers and having different challenges. What I encourage people to do is to look at how do they bring that accountability for themselves into what they want to do. Much of it is around being able to demonstrate for yourself and others the impact you’re making on a daily and a weekly basis.
That’s almost like a roadmap for themselves.
When I’m working with organizations or when I’m working with individuals specifically, one of the tools that I like to use is a professional journal I created and it’s called the Successes, Failures & Lessons Learned. It’s a twelve-week guided journal that allows individuals to goal set and to track very specifically what’s the impact being made in the successes, the failures, which I turn chose that word intentionally because it should be viewed as a catalyst for growth, then the lessons learned from both. What tends to happen is if we are in such a natural busy society and the reality is that’s likely not going to slow down, the more with less is the norm. We need to then put the tools in place that can allow for our own level of accountability.
Doing something like this creates the foundation for a roadmap. The other thing I advise people to do is when they are interested in positions to promote internally or curious about what’s going on inside their organizations, I strongly encourage them to have conversations with the hiring leaders but to apply. What I find is that a lot of individuals and women in particular from the statistical standpoint don’t put themselves forward because they don’t think they check all the boxes. The reality is that a job description is a guideline. You shouldn’t be checking all the boxes. What you should do though is bring in what’s your secret sauce? What can you bring into this that the organization or the team needs that they don’t realize yet? Those are two key areas that I try to help people see that help them inside that roadmap as you said.
This is so important because many times, regardless of who they are and whatever role they play, they could confuse busyness with a value-added to the organization. When you have such a guided journal, where data doesn’t lie, we could see the progress. We know where we want to get to and we know how we’re doing and then we could measure the value we’re bringing to the organization. It’s so valuable for a person themselves, for their growth, but ultimately even the growth potential within the organization.Businesses and organizations miss out when they don't give opportunities to their people. Click To Tweet
On the second point you mentioned, people have interviewed me on other podcasts and my personal opinion I would love to hear if you agree or disagree or you have anything to add. I think one of the worst things in our society is that we have so much talent sitting in certain positions because they don’t know what the next step needs to be. They’re not utilizing their talent. Those individuals are losing that because they’re not very excited about what they do every single day and they’re not advancing their career. The businesses and organizations are missing out because here you have somebody that dedicated to the company, they could have so much more value and bring the company to the next level, but they’re not given the opportunity.
I have a belief of this is a top-down, bottom-up approach and we’re going to meet in the middle. When I’m working with these people and process alignment is there was a real need to go deeper and to start earlier in building the development of a leadership pipeline. Even if we’re not talking about people who will lead others, the mindset and the skillset of people who hold that belief of leadership is incredibly important to an organization and should be started much earlier and go much deeper. When I look at it from the individual standpoint, it’s with the same mindset of don’t wait to be tapped, don’t wait for somebody to come and say you’re ready. Do the work and start to build your case for yourself and others, be willing to show why you’re ready and start making that, ask for yourself and putting yourself out there. We do need that because to your point, we have way too much talent that’s underutilized. We have people that are leaving because they’re bored and they’re not challenged. Organizations are struggling to figure that out. This is a real crisis that we have in many ways within our business society as it is now.
What would you say if a leader wants to improve their leadership? We spoke about communication especially if those leaders are coming from being the entrepreneur moving into a leadership position and now their task is to make sure that they have a clear focus. Especially in the world we live in, one of the things that constantly distracts is called the shiny object syndrome. The other side is other people don’t call it shiny object syndrome. They call it opportunities. As you go into a company and those leaders are constantly looking at the next big thing or the next opportunity, how do you vet those ideas and saying, “We didn’t maximize what we already have or there’s not enough reason why we should pivot?” How would you go about assessing the situation and making a decision accordingly?
It’s important to have the mindset of an “and.” It’s not necessarily a no. It might not be a full yes. It goes back to some of what we were speaking to which is having a clear strategy and communication plan gives you a place to always go back to. Go into the extent of having a strong purpose or a strong mission. Do the things we’re considering line up to that? As we think of new ideas, does it pass that test? For leaders, if we’re constantly moving, what we have to be thinking about is what are we gaining and what impact are we making? As leaders, we should be thinking about it from the perspective of what impact are we making on those who were leading and are we truly focused on their development as then when we start to look for it on our own as well.
Years ago, somebody got a position within a company and that person stuck around for years regardless of which role they were. Now, we live in an economy where people are much more open to growth and change. They might be willing to give it all the guff for the next 2 or 3 years, but then move on depending on their life situations. I always say that when they give you those two years, the more training you give them, the more you get in return. When the time comes to move on, they would be more than happy to train in the way that they will train the next person taking over their position. The leadership mindset has been not only a good thing to have, but it’s also a critical mindset to see growth within a company.
We need to have a mindset that training and developing people is good for business in general, not just for our business. My belief has always been that we’re all on this journey and where we are right now is part of that journey. There will be a time when this phase of our professional life needs to evolve and the journey moves on. My belief has always been the more we invest in people and appreciate what they’re giving us, then we’re hopefully setting them up to be successful and to carry on what we’ve instilled in them into wherever they go, inside our organization or otherwise. We need to get to that mindset of just because we train them, we shouldn’t be afraid that they might leave especially with the newer generations if we train and invest in them, that might give them more reason to want to stick around.
If a leader is reading this and thinking to themselves, “I need to be better on those things,” from a coaching perspective which is what you do, where would you start? What would be the process?
The first place I would start with is to find a tool that will help you see the impact you’re making and it will help build upon the confidence of knowing what you’re accomplishing, what you need to develop in, that sort of thing. Start with something that you can ground yourself in. The other thing is from a mindset perspective. Go to a place of curiosity as a default. Look to ask questions, seek to understand and to listen, and come at it from that perspective so that you can hopefully learn in that process versus trying to check a box and move along. The leaders who continue to have people want to follow them are the ones who always are looking out for their people, they’re always authentic in it, and they recognize that as they grow and move on, that’s a healthy outcome. Finding a tool with the Successes, Failures & Lessons Learned journal or something like that, held in a mindset of being curious, looking at impact, taking more accountability into the role you have and how you can then drive yourself forward versus relying on or thinking that it’s up to the company to come and tap you.
Let me go back to something you mentioned. The word you said is sometimes you want to start your career growth or your career path even though you’re not ready for that yet but start thinking about it. For leaders that are trying to promote people from within their organization, where should they look at? Who are the people that they should pay attention to and say, “Those are the people that I may want to invest a little extra because I feel that one day they’ll make it up to the leadership team?”
What I often see is that organizations especially perhaps midsize larger organizations will have designated high-potential groups. People that they’ve seen and think have shown certain characteristics that they’ve defined they wanted for potential leadership. What tends to happen is sometimes the usual suspects get slated into that. There are other criteria around how suitable somebody might be aside from the technical skills to lead. Just because you’re a high performer doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be an effective leader of others. What I often say is look beyond what you traditionally have defined as your criteria. Whether you’re doing this from a formal high-potential perspective or informal, start to look at a couple of layers beyond that.
Look at people who are up and coming, who are showing promise, who are raising their hand, who are interested in getting involved. We need to give people an opportunity even if they’re not ready yet because they need to have the feedback to be able to grow and be able to take it. What happens is when we don’t do that and as individuals, when we don’t put ourselves out there, we end up waiting for the perfect opportunity or what we believe is a perfect opportunity. We go all in and then we’re incredibly disappointed when we don’t get it and deflated. We need to set some standards along the way where people can genuinely receive growth feedback, but go through the experience of formal interviews, being challenged and understanding what that means from a lens of developing them for the next step.
You mentioned that you have some of those downloads available for people to assess their situation. Do you want to share a little bit of what that is?
I have got a download that’s a checklist format and it’s titled 7 Reasons (Most) Strategic Plans Fail. It gives an opportunity from a leadership standpoint that you want to look out for. I’ll also provide another one that’s very focused on the individual as well. It gives people the opportunity to do a self-assessment and see where they’re at in their career, where they want to go and what the gaps are. I’ll make sure to have both those for you.
I appreciate your offer on that. Let’s close with four rapid-fire questions. Number one, a book that changed your life.
The book that changed my life was What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.
Number two, a piece of advice you got that you’ll never forget.
A piece of advice I got was I was told by my undergraduate marketing professor that women can never be CEOs. I have worked to prove him wrong on that.Find a tool that will help you see the impact you're actually making. Click To Tweet
You made it your mission as well. Number three, anything you wish you could go back and do differently?
I wish I would have had some of the training, insight, and emotional intelligence at a much earlier age. That’s a big piece of admission I have of wanting to do the work I do now.
Last and final question, number four. What’s still on your bucket list to achieve?
It is to publish another book on critical thinking, the impact that it’s having inside our organizations, and what we need to do to invest in that. I am a couple of chapters in and as we know, it’s quite a big project.
Kim, thank you so much for joining us. I know your time is valuable and that is why in the name of our audience, we will forever be grateful for sharing some of your time with us.
Thank you, Meny. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I’ve enjoyed our conversation and I hope your audience will find some value out of it as well.
- The Innovare Group
- Kim Bohr
- Marc Bodner – past episode
- Successes, Failures & Lessons Learned
- 7 Reasons (Most) Strategic Plans Fail
- What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
- @KimBohr – Twitter
About Kim Bohr
Kim Bohr is an author, in-demand speaker, and coveted executive advisor. She is also the CEO of The Innovare Group. The firm that is known for diagnosing and repairing organizational and leadership disconnects, working with both the companies and leaders to help them assess, align, and accelerate the strategic priorities that impact talent, execution, and business growth.
Kim works with VC-funded start-ups, mid-market companies, and progressive corporate teams, often guiding the sales, marketing, and operations functions of these organizations, helping them face the fact that a Solid Strategy Won’t Survive Poor Execution.